Hamas to get Gaza Aid?

Defense officials are concerned that Hamas is pressuring humanitarian aid groups, including a UN agency, into giving it billions of dollars.

Maayana Miskin,

UNRWA warehouse in Gaza
UNRWA warehouse in Gaza
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Defense officials expressed concern this week over recent developments in Gaza, particularly reports that Hamas is intimidating humanitarian organizations, and has begun working more closely with the United Nations. There is evidence to suggest that Hamas may get its hands on billions of dollars meant as humanitarian aid for Gaza civilians, they said.

Reports that Hamas has threatened UN workers in Gaza began to surface months ago. During Operation Cast Lead, Hamas stole truckloads of supplies, some of which were later returned.

According to the Hebrew-language daily Maariv, pressure got so bad in recent weeks that the UN's Gaza chief, John Ging, fled the area for fear of his life. The threats were made by members of Hamas who told Ging to ensure that aid money would be directed to individuals specified by Hamas, the paper said.

The UN's Relief and Works Agency is the largest international organization operating in Gaza, and Hamas is increasing pressure on the group in an attempt to control its budget. UNRWA receives hundreds of millions of dollars each year, mostly from the European Union.

Hamas puts pressure on other groups as well. Hamas announced in the local Gaza paper Filisteen a warning that any organization that fails to heed Hamas orders will be forced out of Gaza.

The pressure appears to have worked. According to defense officials, UN workers have been meeting with senior members of Hamas to coordinate the distribution of international aid contributed in the wake of Operation Cast Lead.

Israel has sent evidence of Hamas pressure on aid groups to the United States, in order to warn the U.S. that its own funds could be misappropriated as well. The U.S. has pledged $900 million to rebuild Gaza buildings destroyed during Cast Lead.

Israeli officials said they are attempting to create a mechanism that would allow aid to be sent to Gaza while ensuring that the funds would not fall into Hamas' hands. However, officials did not express optimism over the chances that any such system would be fully effective.

UN: Distribution Based on Need
UN workers in Gaza disputed charges that Hamas pressure was affecting UN policy. Aid is distributed according to humanitarian need only, they said.

In response to reports that Ging had fled the area, UN officials said Ging had indeed left Gaza, but has since returned.